The Legacy of Abebe Bikila

Abebe Bikila was a marathon runner from Ethiopia who is most well-known for winning an Olympic marathon running barefoot. He was a last minute selection for his country to compete in the marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics and as he was a late inclusion the team had run out of running shoes in his size. He went on to win the marathon without the use of running shoes. His achievements in this are held up by those who promote a barefoot lifestyle and barefoot running as a heroic achievment worship. Vibram FiveFingers who manufacture barefoot running shoes have even named one of their models after him.

Four years later he went on to win the 1964 Tokyo Olympic marathon, this time wearing running shoes and was able to break the world record this time. In the context of the debate between those who promote barefoot running and those who argue against the exaggerated claims made for the benefits of it, like to point out that Abebe Bikala could actually run faster and break a world record when he was using running shoes. This is often overlooked or deliberately ignored by those who like to focus on his 1960 win which was done barefoot.

Abebe Bikila tragically died from injuries suffered in a motor vehicle accident in 1973 at the age of 41. There is a stadium in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia named in his honor. His legacy is the position he is held in by both sides of the arguments that go on about the benefits or not of barefoot running. The barefoot community like use him so they can point out that you can run a marathon successfully without shoes. Those who argue against the exaggerated claims for a barefoot lifestyle use him to point out you can run faster with running shoes on. podiatrists are often in the middle of this debate.

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